Putin, Sanctions, Canada and the G-7

Sending Russian intelligence operatives packing, back to Moscow, was necessary and important. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime crossed a red line with its use of a banned chemical agent in Britain. The West has to demonstrate collective sanction to deter this heinous form of assassination.

Russia is promising retaliation – tit-for-tat or some other form. The Putin modus operandi is to push until pushed back, so the West needs to plan its next moves.

As a first step, there should be agreement that no Western leader will attend Mr. Putin’s re-inauguration on May 7. Mr. Putin has made himself a pariah and should be treated as such.

As host of the G7 summit this June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should add managing the Putin regime to the agenda. The G7 needs to take the lead in a collective response and then encourage the rest of the West to follow.

But in considering further sanctions, the West needs to be smart. It must disapprove of the Putin regime but not the Russian people. What it should not do is withdraw its ambassadors in Moscow, nor send Russian ambassadors home. This old-fashioned tactic deprives leadership of our most experienced diplomats just when we need their advice and on-site perspective to avoid misunderstandings that can create dangerous escalation.

Nor should it sanction cultural, educational and scientific exchanges with the Russian people. These individuals are often critics of their own regime. We need to encourage them by showing them a better way, and exposure to life in our liberal democracies helps achieve this.

Similarly, cutting off access to our food and energy know-how leaves Mr. Putin and his kleptocratic entourage unscathed. But it does hurt the Russian people and gives Mr. Putin more ammunition to play on Russian insecurities. It also hurts Canadian farmers and the oil patch by denying them market opportunities when relations are normalized.

Smarter sanctions in a digital age would include those that target the pocketbooks of the kleptocrats, depriving them of a refuge for their ill-gotten gains. Ban them from entry to the West. And to really hit home, ban their wives and children from shopping, studying or working in the West.

Last year, Parliament adopted legislation – it passed unanimously in both the House of Commons and Senate – allowing travel bans and asset freezes on human rights abusers. Named after the Russian activist Sergei Magnitsky, who was beaten to death in 2009 in a Russian prison, it has already been applied against 52 human-rights violators in Russia, Venezuela and South Sudan. It’s a powerful weapon that should be applied judiciously but liberally. We should encourage all our allies to pass Magnitsky-style legislation.

We also need to better prepare for future threats. With support from the European Union and NATO, there are new centres of excellence related to hybrid threats in Helsinki, strategic communications in Latvia and cyberdefence in Estonia. All three deserve Canadian support. Recent revelations about the misuse of personal data make a compelling argument for the Canadian government to take up the Finnish invitation to join the Helsinki Center.

Canada should also rejoin the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Created in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis, it was an initiative of the Soviets and Americans to employ scientific co-operation to build bridges across the Cold War divide and to solve global problems. This Vienna-based organization does excellent work. The IIASA wants Canada back. As part of its recent recommitment to basic science, the government should respond favourably.

Mr. Putin has been renewed as President until 2024. Robert Gates, who served as defence secretary to presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has a good read on the Russian President: “I had looked into Putin’s eyes and I saw a stone cold killer.”

Mr. Putin is trying to create a pro-Russia bloc of states of the former Soviet Union. He wants them tied economically and militarily to Russia. The invasions into Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine, and the Syrian intervention, are all aimed at upending the post-Cold War rules-based order. Mr. Putin disregards borders and interferes in the election process of liberal democracies. He uses force – traditional, chemical and cyber – to settle revanchist scores.

The Putin problem needs readdressing by the G7 at Charlevoix, Que. As host, Canada must be strategic in offering ideas. There is more than enough global disarray without tumbling into a new Cold War.

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Trump, Trade Deficits and Trudeau

President Donald Trump repeated his controversial claim on Thursday that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada to swipe at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a day after boasting about attempting to bluff the Canadian leader on the subject.

“We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive),” Trump said on Twitter on Thursday morning. “P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S. (negotiating), but they do…they almost all do…and that’s how I know!”

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative says the U.S. in 2016 had a goods and services trade surplus with Canada of $12.5 billion. And Trump’s own 2018 economic report, which was released last month and signed by the president, also notes that the U.S. runs “a net bilateral surplus only with Canada and the United Kingdom.”

But Trump and his top trade official, USTR Robert Lighthizer, argue that official statistics understate the size of the U.S. trade deficit with Canada, as well as with Mexico, because the data doesn’t reflect the value of imports from China and other suppliers that first enter the U.S. and are then re-exported to one of the North American neighbors.

“You have a number of — $30, $40, $50 billion worth — of transshipments that have nothing to do with the U.S. economy,” Lighthizer told reporters in January of this year, at the end of a round of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. “We end up having wrong numbers about Canada, wrong numbers about Mexico.”

The president’s early morning tweet came after he bragged to donors at a closed-door fundraiser in Missouri on Wednesday evening that he recently told Trudeau the U.S. had a trade deficit with Canada, even though he wasn’t sure of the details. He said the Canadian prime minister refuted his claim.

“I didn’t even know,” Trump said, according to audio obtained by POLITICO. “I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’”

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Trump also reportedly asked staff to check on Trudeau’s assertion that the U.S. does indeed have a trade surplus with Canada. He then said that the statistics don’t include energy and timber, “and when you do, we lose $17 billion a year,” he said. ‘It’s incredible.”

The White House defended Trump’s comments at a press briefing Thursday afternoon and appeared to embrace his formula, telling reporters that the data showing a surplus are “not complete.”

“The president was accurate because there is a trade deficit and that was the point he was making,” said White House presssSecretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, adding: “There are plenty of things, once you take into the full account all of the trade between the two countries, that show that there actually is a deficit between those two.”

The latest back-and-forth over the deficit comes as the U.S. is negotiating with Canada and Mexico to modernize NAFTA, which took effect in 1994. Trump in recent weeks has repeatedly mentioned a U.S. trade deficit with Canada in the context of the NAFTA talks. “We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada,” he has said, using that to defend his argument that the agreement has been a “bad deal” for Americans.

But Canada’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, which is leading the NAFTA talks for Ottawa, brushed off Trump’s latest remarks.

“Canada and the United States have a balanced and mutually beneficial trading relationship. According to their own statistics, the U.S. runs a trade surplus with Canada,” Adam Austen, a foreign affairs spokesperson, said Thursday. “We are energetically at work modernizing and updating NAFTA to support good jobs and the middle class in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.”

Trump’s latest remarks are unlikely to have any significant effect on the ongoing talks, which are set to resume next month with another formal negotiating round, to be held outside Washington, D.C.

“I think people just look at this and say, ‘There he goes again,’” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who was part of the country’s original NAFTA negotiating team. “I think people think Trudeau has managed Trump well to the national interest. They know that you can’t insult him, because our prosperity depends on our ability to trade with the U.S.”

“So don’t get diverted,” Robertson added. “Don’t get fussed by this.”

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Trade Retaliation

Maple syrup from Vermont and perhaps California wine may be on Ottawa’s hit list in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Lisa Rathke/The Associated Press

Canada will need to either bend or break international trade rules to take quick retaliatory action should the United States slap hefty tariffs on Canadian-made steel and aluminum, but experts say Ottawa has been forced into this position by an exceptionally protectionist White House.

Canadians should expect to pay more for iconic U.S.-produced goods if a trade war breaks out. Ottawa could slap import charges on goods from California wine to Vermont maple syrup – the sort of items that Canada has targeted in previous trade conflicts with Washington.

Canada has not released any lists of products – and the Trudeau government is staying mum on possible retaliation while it continues to seek an exemption from the Trump action. But experts suggest looking back at past trade spats with the United States – such as a 2014 dispute over meat labelling – to see what Canada has been prepared to hit.

Canada will be in good company in this trade fight, however, because more than 20 other countries or trading blocs will be taking similar countermeasures.

The European Union has already outlined a list of U.S. exports it would target after President Donald Trump said he will levy a tax of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on aluminum.

U.S. President Donald Trump told a joint news conference that he still backs the idea of adding tariffs to steel and aluminum imports, linking them to a new NAFTA deal. Trump said he will straighten out trade in a “loving, loving” way.

Normally, Canada is supposed to seek retaliatory authority from the World Trade Organization to impose countermeasures on foreign countries but this process can take years. But, unlike past quarrels with the United States, Canada will be hard-pressed to act immediately – regardless of what the rules say.

“I don’t believe any countries affected by these tariffs will wait for WTO procedures to be completed before acting,” international trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said.

“Politics will drive this. Governments, including Canada, will be forced to respond immediately. That’s the dangerous precipice we’re facing, thanks to Mr. Trump.”

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, writing in The Globe and Mail, says Canada and other countries threatened by the Trump tariffs should be drawing up a common list of U.S. exports that they could target with retaliatory action.

The EU has already warned it plans to target key Republican leaders with import taxes on items such as Kentucky bourbon – a product from the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – as well as cranberries and dairy products from Wisconsin, home to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Mr. Trump threw cold water on hopes for a Canadian exemption this week when he warned Canada would not be spared unless it agrees to U.S. demands for changes to the North American free-trade agreement – a series of protectionist U.S. requests that both Ottawa and Mexico City have characterized as unreasonable.

He said Tuesday that the tariffs will be applied in a “loving way.”

Mr. Ryan, the most powerful member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said the proposed tariffs are too broad and open the country to possible retaliation. Mr. Ryan named China, rather than Canada, as a problem.

The steel tariffs will be raised Wednesday at a meeting between auto industry leaders and officials in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, said Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, who will attend the meeting.

Auto industry executives sought the meeting to urge Mr. Trudeau to halt Canada’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which will eliminate Canada’s 6.1 per cent tariff on vehicles imported from Japan.

One U.S. trade expert estimates the annual cost to Canada of the steel and aluminum tariffs could be US$3.2-billion. Chad Bown, a trade adviser to former president Barack Obama, wrote in an article for the Peterson Insitute for International Economics that this amount would be roughly what Canada could justifiably expect to seek compensation for in retaliatory action against the United States.

Former Canadian government officials have said it’s very difficult to pick retaliatory targets. In 2005, when Canada was angry at a U.S. law that funnelled cash collected from tariffs on foreign goods to U.S. companies, Ottawa drew up a list that targeted the states where U.S. politicians voted for the legislation. In that case, Ottawa was forced to abandon some retaliatory targets – such as U.S. motorboats – because of push-back from Canadian industry. Its final list was narrowed down to a few items, such as tropical fish.

Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, said Canada’s best bet to head off the tariffs may be to wait for the U.S. system of checks and balances to run its course, including a likely court challenge of steel tariffs by companies that buy steel.

“People are already talking about how court challenges will be launched, what would the courts be asked to adjudicate; would they be asked to adjudicate what constitutes a national security threat?” Ms. Dawson said.

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Trump Trade Threats

For Canada, Trump times are trying times. In spite of constant provocation, the team around Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s team has successfully avoided making our policy differences personal. This is the right approach.

The latest ‘Trumplosion’ links the threatened new tariffs on steel and aluminum to renegotiating a “new and fair NAFTA agreement.” Delivered in one of the President’s now-trademark early morning tweets, it is straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook.

The Trumplosions are a distraction to the NAFTA negotiators. They remind us why we need a fair dispute-settlement chapter as insurance of secure access to our largest market.

Getting an exemption from the tariffs means redoubling our advocacy efforts in the United States. To our mantra about Canadian trade sustaining nine million American jobs, we now need to add that Canada is the biggest market for U.S. steel, taking half of U.S. steel exports. That Canada is the largest foreign supplier of both steel and aluminum to the U.S. only underlines our role as a trusted and reliable ally. And, as the President’s own 2018 Economic Report points out, the U.S. enjoys a trade surplus with Canada.

The multipronged Team Canada approach both in and beyond the Washington beltway is working. Ministers and premiers consistently reach out to their counterparts. Federal and provincial legislators work both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill and in the statehouses. Business and labour engage customers and suppliers.

As a result, we have identified many more American allies than we thought. The dividend from all this activity is the significant number of U.S. legislators now making the case for a Canadian exemption.

The North American free-trade agreement, a leper in U.S. political circles for most of the last 24 years, is finding champions in the United States. The farm community, the auto industry and most business is now telling the Trump administration to “do no harm” to NAFTA.

But the problem, as Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland recognizes, is that the Trump team approaches trade negotiations as a “zero sum” game. They are mercantilists and the growing U.S. trade deficit only strengthens their protectionist instincts.

The fate of the tariffs and NAFTA is ultimately an American debate.

The 140,000 jobs in the steel industry face continuing pressure not because of foreign competition but because of automation and robotics. The jobs are not coming back. The Trump administration owes these workers retraining and adjustment assistance.

There are 6.5 million jobs that depend on the steel imports. These are the jobs that Mr. Trump should be supporting. They will suffer if tariffs are imposed. It is “straight up stupid,” says Peterson Institute’s Adam Posen, “…you mess up your entire trading system.”

Mr. Trump is wrong on one thing. No one wins a trade war. Using national security as a protectionist cloak to impose tariffs risks unhinging the global trading order. It will backfire on the Trump administration.

Canadians are feeling the impact as the threat of tariffs disrupts our markets, our currency and potential investment. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz warns that the redirection of investment towards the U.S. will only increase. The Trump tax reforms will only accelerate this flight. Finance Minister Bill Morneau needs to rethink how to sustain Canada’s competitiveness.

Global overcapacity in steel production is testing the global trading system. Both the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have identified the problem – Chinese overcapacity. A useful Canadian initiative would be to bring together China and the U.S., and our fellow U.S. steel suppliers – Brazil, E.U., Mexico, and South Korea – to see what we can work out.

With our fellow targets of the Trump tariffs, we should also draw up a common retaliatory list. By jointly and very publicly threatening to target products such as California wine, Canada and Mexico persuaded Congress to rescind the pernicious country-of-origin labelling requirements.

The tariff threat reminds Canadians that the Trump challenge – an impulsive, unpredictable president who thrives on chaos – requires constant vigilance. We will get through the latest Trumplosion because of our co-ordinated advocacy and careful diplomacy.

Even before being elected Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau recognized the wisdom of Brian Mulroney’s axiom that the most important relationship for every Canadian prime minister is that with the U.S. president. Like it or not, Mr. Trudeau must continue to work diligently on his relationship with Mr. Trump, including the late-night telephone calls.

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Trudeau travels to India

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India this week will reinforce and underline our growing people-to-people ties. The economic relationship is less buoyant, but if Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi can deliver on his promised domestic reforms, there is the potential for more two-way trade and investment.

With stops in Agra, Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, as well as New Delhi, it will be a rare session that does not include some reference to family living or studying in Canada.

The Indian diaspora includes several members in the Canadian Parliament, with four members in the Trudeau cabinet. Nearly 4 per cent of Canadians claim Indian decent, with 40,000 Indians migrating to Canada last year. The 124,000 Indians studying in Canada are our second-largest group of foreign students. No surprise that tourism is also on the rise, with more than 210,000 Indians visiting Canada last year. There are daily and non-stop flights.

India definitely deserves Canadian attention.

India will soon surpass China in population, with one-sixth of humanity. It is also the world’s largest democracy, which is a cacophony of caste and creeds. The two Prime Ministers will empathize over the challenges of managing federations with strong sectional and regional pressures. Some of these, such as the Sikh separatist movement, play into Canadian affairs.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, Mr. Modi was forceful in his embrace of globalization. He described his “New India” reform agenda and its pillars of structural reform: technological governance; physical infrastructure; business facilitation; and inclusive development. Designed to give “good administration and better amenities,” Canada needs to identify the niche opportunities within each pillar.

Trade and investment will figure in every discussion. Investment from Canadian pension funds in real estate and other sectors has picked up in the past couple of years.

With its steady GDP growth, India is expected to become the third-largest consumer market by 2025.

But Canada and India are still some distance from long-promised deals on foreign investment and closer economic relations.

The foreign-investment protection agreement negotiated by the Paul Martin and Stephen Harper governments that was concluded in 2007 has yet to be implemented. Free-trade negotiations began in 2010. The six-month “road map” to its achievement, that Mr. Harper and Mr. Modi enthused about during the Indian Prime Minister’s Canadian visit in April, 2015, has yet to materialize.

Much of the problem lies, as the World Bank consistently reports, with India’s trade restrictiveness. Mr. Modi talks a good show on reform and, while he is making some progress, the structural impediments are deep and entrenched.

There is also, notwithstanding Mr. Modi’s declaration in Davos, Indian protectionism.

The imposition late last year of a 50-per-cent import tariff on peas and a 30-per-cent tariff on chickpeas and lentils should be high on Mr. Trudeau’s discussions with Mr. Modi. Agricultural sales to India are a major market, especially for Prairie farmers.

Mr. Trudeau will likely get a receptive hearing on climate and the progressive trade agenda that can be parleyed into useful initiatives.

Mr. Modi will raise Indo-Pacific security and likely ask about Canadian capacity and capabilities. Indian policy under Mr. Modi has shifted from “Look East” to “Act East.” His “Neighbourhood First” policy is roughly analogous to the Trudeau government’s new “Strong, Secure, Engaged” defence policy. At last month’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum, there were discussions about the “congagement” – containment and engagement – of China. Mr. Trudeau should listen to Mr. Modi’s perspective.

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership now a reality and likely to be implemented later this year, our trade in the Pacific will only increase. It will oblige more attention and commitment to Indo-Pacific security.

The tempo of Indo-Pacific activity by our Esquimalt-based warships has picked up. HMCS Chicoutimi, one of our Victoria-class submarines, is completing a nearly six month successful Pacific exercise that also took it to Japan. If we want to be seen as a serious Indo-Pacific partner, the current tempo will be seen as the bare minimum.

Mr. Trudeau’s India visit is his longest yet to a single country. The Indian backdrop will provide a spectacular picturesque travelogue against a celebration of family ties. But real success will also require serious and continuing conversations on trade and security.

A Conversation with Indian High Commissioner Vikas Swarup

February 12, 2018

On today’s Global Exchange Podcast, we speak with the Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Vikas Swarup. Join Colin and High Commissioner Swarup for a discussion on the High Commissioner’s career, his impressions of Canada, the importance of Canada-India relations, and the significance of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s upcoming visit to India.

Participant Biographies

  • Colin Robertson (host): A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
  • Vikas Swarup: High Commissioner of India to Canada.

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Trudeau in California

Trudeau to meet with Amazon, eBay CEOs on 4-day U.S. trip

Prime minister to promote trade, look for investment while visiting Illinois and California

By Katie Simpson, CBC News Posted: Feb 07, 2018 4:00 AM ETLast Updated: Feb 07, 2018 10:36 AM ET

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to use his meetings with influential American CEOs to remind U.S. lawmakers about the importance of NAFTA

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to use his meetings with influential American CEOs to remind U.S. lawmakers about the importance of NAFTA (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is gearing up for four days of critical meetings with lawmakers and business leaders as he heads out on yet another trade and investment mission to the U.S.

But Trudeau has one closed-door discussion planned that’s certain to get more attention than the rest.

On Thursday, he will be meeting with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. The tech giant is in the middle of its search for a second headquarters — and Toronto is on the short list.

Trudeau will be under pressure to make a strong pitch on Toronto’s behalf during his face-to-face meeting with Bezos.

Amazon plans to spend up to $5 billion US on its second headquarters, which it says will create 50,000 new high-paying jobs.

More than 200 cities in Canada and the U.S. bid for the facility, but Toronto is the only Canadian city still being seriously considered for the new location.

Canada’s largest city is up against several major U.S. hubs, including Boston, New York and Chicago.

Familiar trade pitch

The Bezos meeting is just one aspect of Trudeau’s trip south of the border.

Over the next four days, he will visit Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles to promote NAFTA and the importance of the Canada-U.S. trading relationship.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson calls these types of missions essential to the Canada-U.S. relationship.

“I think the one thing Donald Trump has taught us is that you can’t take the U.S. for granted,” he told CBC News.

TRADE-NAFTA/

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Trudeau at the White House on Oct. 11, 2017. ‘The one thing Donald Trump has taught us is that you can’t take the U.S. for granted,’ former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said of the current U.S. president. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“We do not make enough trips into the United States, given the relative weight of the United States and its importance on the Canadian economy.” 

The pitching begins in Chicago, where Trudeau will deliver a keynote speech today at the University of Chicago and participate in a discussion with David Axelrod, former U.S. president Barack Obama’s chief election strategist.

Before the event, he will sit down with several political leaders, including Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who also served as Obama’s first chief of staff.

Trudeau is expected to use the meetings to remind U.S. lawmakers of the importance of NAFTA at a critical point in the re-negotiation process.

The sixth round of NAFTA talks ended in Montreal last month with all sides agreeing that progress has been slow.

Since then, new signs of hope have emerged that suggest a deal may be possible.

Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, told an audience in Ottawa on Monday that he’s pressuring negotiators to wrap up discussions in the next two months.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue told a U.S. House of Representatives committee that he believes a deal could be reached by December.

‘Go north’

Trudeau will shift his focus to the tech sector on Thursday as he heads to San Francisco, where he will meet with Bezos. But he also will sit down with other influential business leaders, including the CEOs of online shopping giant eBay and pharmaceutical developer Amgen.

The tech sector leg of the visit wraps up with a dinner at the Business Council to discuss new investment opportunities in Canada.

Trudeau’s pitch likely will include the fact that Canada has joined the new Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CP-TPP). The U.S. did not sign on to the pact, which also includes Japan and Australia.

“I think this might be of interest to some American exporters,” said Michael Kergin, Canada’s former ambassador to the U.S. “They can use some subsidiaries in Canada to work through the Asian markets as well.”

Kergin also said the business tax cuts introduced by U.S. President Donald Trump last month won’t necessarily hurt Trudeau’s pitch to the high tech sector.

“Knowing where you can get good markets and good people to work with you … I think is more important than the tax issue,” he said.

Trudeau also may look to urge Canadians working in tech industries in the U.S. to start coming home.

“There’s a ‘Go north’ campaign on right now,” Robertson said. “All the bright young engineers from Sheridan College that worked at Pixar … and from Waterloo that went down to Silicon Valley. If we can bring some of them back … that would be great for Canada.”

While in San Francisco, Trudeau will meet with more lawmakers, including California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Trudeau ends his trip with two days in Los Angeles. While there, he will deliver a second keynote address — this time to a primarily Republican audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Centre for Public Affairs.

Trudeau's U.S. tour

The prime minister is set to meet with some of the most influential leaders in the tech industry as he launches a four day trade and investment mission to the U.S. (Rob Easton/CBC)

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The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is suggesting the more than 200,000 companies in its network renew any permits required to do business in the United States sooner than later in case U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration scraps the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

“We all live in hope that common sense will prevail at the end of the day,” chamber president and chief executive officer Perrin Beatty, a former Canadian cabinet minister, said in an interview with Xinhua Friday.

“However, we’re dealing with an administration that is very nativist and that is talking about putting impediments in the way of trade, which is not what we’re doing in Canada. We see engaging American businesses as a positive thing.”

Next Tuesday, American, Canadian and Mexican trade officials will convene in Montreal to begin the sixth round of talks to renegotiate NAFTA – a deal that Trump has opposed since his campaign for the presidency and which on Thursday he described as “a bad joke” on Twitter.

Retired Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson remains uncertain about the future of NAFTA, which he helped draft.

“If we were dealing with any other administration, I would say yes we would solve the differences. But because of Donald Trump, I don’t know. On a daily basis, you wonder where he is coming from,” said Robertson.

He said the U.S. president has recently sent mixed signals regarding Mexico, where he told the Wall Street Journal that he would be “flexible” on his threat to withdraw from NAFTA in light of this year’s Mexican presidential election, yet also said that Mexico would pay for his much-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall “indirectly” through changes to the trilateral trade pact.

Beatty said that during negotiations for the 1988 bilateral trade deal between Canada and the United States that preceded NAFTA, the dynamics that played out between Ottawa and Washington, D.C. were “quite different” of what they are now between both capital cities.

He said there was “a very close personal” friendship between U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican like Trump, and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a conservative in whose cabinet Beatty served at the time as defense minister.

“Without that relationship, the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement wouldn’t have been possible because there were so many vested interests that worked against trying to take down barriers and open up trade,” Beatty explained.

“In this case, we have an existing agreement that by any empirical standard has been very beneficial to all three countries. Logic would say you need a compelling reason not to continue with it. Yet what we’re dealing with here is a politically and ideologically driven approach to trade that often ignores the facts.”

Robertson, an Ottawa-based vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, a foreign policy think-tank headquartered in the western Canadian city of Calgary, noted that Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Davos, Switzerland next week attending the World Economic Forum where NAFTA will likely be raised in any conversations between both leaders.

But ultimately the hard work will occur at the negotiating tables, and Robertson believes there are three possible outcomes to next week’s talks in Montreal, which have been extended by one day to Jan. 29.

Either a deal will be reached and sent to the U.S. Congress for approval; or negotiations will be suspended at the end of March following their eighth round in Washington, and moved to technical discussions without ministerial meetings until 2019 after the Mexican presidential inauguration on Dec. 1; or Trump rescinds the agreement and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer “will blame Canada and Mexico for failing to show a willingness to compromise,” according to Robertson.

The latter scenario is plausible since neither Canada nor Mexico is willing to budge in their insistence that a NAFTA provision that allows for bi-national panels to review anti-dumping and countervailing duties remain. Trump’s administration wants that dispute-resolution mechanism dropped and have U.S. courts as the final arbiter in challenges to American tariffs.

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Trump first president in 40 years to not visit Canada

Donald Trump becomes the first president in 40 years not to visit Canada in his first year

At midnight Sunday, Donald Trump will become the first U.S. president since Jimmy Carter not to visit Canada in his first calendar year in office, though former diplomats said they would not make too much of Trump’s absence.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an Oct. 11 meeting at the White House.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an Oct. 11 meeting at the White House.  (DOUG MILLS / NYT file photo)  

WASHINGTON—Ronald Reagan made his first presidential trip to Canada four months into his term.

George H.W. Bush visited Canada just three weeks into his term.

For Bill Clinton, it was two-and-a-half months. For George W. Bush, it was three months. And for Barack Obama, it was one month.

Donald Trump? To be determined.

With 2017 about to end, Trump is set to become the first U.S. president in 40 years, since Jimmy Carter, not to visit Canada in his first calendar year in office.

For four of the six presidents who preceded Trump — Obama, Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Reagan — Canada was the very first foreign destination. For Trump, it will be, at earliest, the 15th, and probably lower.

Trump is likely to attend the G7 summit in Quebec in June. There are no current plans for him to come earlier, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has visited Trump twice at the White House, has issued invitations.

“The PM and president have developed a constructive, positive working relationship and have spoken or met on numerous occasions,” Trudeau spokesperson Cameron Ahmad said in November, noting that the two leaders have had “17 individual interactions” since Trump was elected. “Our offices, diplomats, ministers, and officials communicate regularly on many key files and shared priorities. The prime minister has extended an invitation to the president to visit Canada and continues to look forward to future opportunities to engage.”

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By most accounts, including Trump’s own, the 46-year-old multilateralist Liberal prime minister and the 71-year-old nationalist Republican president have developed a friendly working relationship. Even as he disparages the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trudeau supports, Trump regularly tells audiences he likes Trudeau.

On Thursday, in an interview with the New York Times, Trump referred to “my friend Justin” while inaccurately describing the state of bilateral trade.

“What’s important is the meetings and discussions and the dialogue, not where they’re taking place. And they certainly have been taking place; they just haven’t been taking place in Canada,” said David Wilkins, the U.S. ambassador to Canada during George W. Bush’s second term.

Wilkins noted that Obama followed his prompt visit with years of delay on the Keystone XL oil pipeline that was a top priority for the Canadian government, then eventually rejected the pipeline. Trump, conversely, rapidly approved the project.

“What’s more important, a visit or the approval of a vital pipeline?” Wilkins said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump speak at the July G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Though he disparages the NAFTA agreement Trudeau supports, Trump has said he likes Trudeau.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump speak at the July G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Though he disparages the NAFTA agreement Trudeau supports, Trump has said he likes Trudeau.  (Ryan Remiorz)  

In part, Trump’s decision not to visit may reflect a coincidence of scheduling: no international summits have been held in Canada this year. It also likely reflects what appears to be Trump’s desire to avoid going places where he might face protests. And Trump has often appeared more comfortable dealing with non-democratic leaders than with traditional western allies.

His first visit was to autocratic Saudi Arabia, which flattered him with an opulent reception. His second was to Israel, the rare democracy where he is popular.

On his first European trip, he attended a G7 summit in Italy and a NATO summit in Belgium. On his second, he attended summits in Poland and Germany. His five-country Asian trip took him to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Trump has accepted a lone invitation for a one-stop visit of the kind Trudeau would be offering, visiting France in July to attend a grand military parade with President Emmanuel Macron.

Analysts see the relationship between Trudeau and Trump as especially important to Canada given the precarious status of NAFTA, which is under Trump-initiated renegotiation. But Trudeau, said former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, is not in a political position to provide the kind of lavish treatment and protest-free surroundings Trump has made clear he prefers.

“If Trump came to Canada, the adverse reaction could damage the relationship given Trump’s king-size ego,” said Robertson, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “He’d probably hold Trudeau accountable, and after the extravagant Saudi red carpet treatment we could never compete — nor would we want to, given the blowback Trudeau would get.”

Trump has not yet visited Mexico, where he is deeply loathed. And he has not visited the United Kingdom, the most frequent destination for U.S. presidents since the Carter era. After a series of delays that appeared to be related to Trump’s local unpopularity and his incendiary remarks, he is now expected to visit Britain in early 2018.

Carter, who served a single term, was the last president never to visit Canada. Obama visited three times during his eight years in office. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (who all served two terms) and George H.W. Bush (who served one) each visited Canada four or five times.

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NAFTA Renegotiation is about USA

NAFTA renegotiation dependent on America’s future path as a nation

  • Corwyn Friesen, mySteinbach
  • Posted on 12/20/2017 at 10:00 am

The Vice-President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute suggests the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement will depend very much on the direction the United States chooses to go as a nation.

Round five of discussions aimed at revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement is set for next month.

Colin Robertson, the Vice-President and a Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says while the creation of the Canada U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement were mostly about Canada and Mexico and have been key to expanding the roles of Canada and Mexico as international traders, the renegotiation of NAFTA is focused on the United States.

This is all about the United States and whether the United States still wants to play the role of leader in the international system that it created after the second world war.

It’s been the steward of the architecture of the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization because it believed it was in the United States’ interest to act as leader and to set what I call the general operating system for the global, whether we’re talking about economics or peace and security.

Donald Trump takes a different view. Donald Trump talks about America First, Buy American and Hire American and he’s turned his back on multilateralism. He wants to renegotiate the trade agreements. In the American Interest he wants to use trade agreements to balance trade. This is something we’ve never seen by a developed economy.

~ Colin Robertson, Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Robertson says this debate is all about the United States and what kind of nation it wants to be. He says although Canadians are making major efforts to remind the Americans that we are a reliable trade partner, a reliable ally and a good friend and neighbor and Mexico is doing the same, this will all be up the Americans which why where America goes on this in Congress, at the state level and in the administration is so important.

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Why Halifax International Security Forum matters

What to expect from the 2017 Halifax International Security Forum

Participants will talk North Korean nuclear weapons and women in international security


Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan at last year’s Halifax International Security Forum.   Katie Short

Participants from 91 democratic countries are in Halifax this weekend for the Halifax International Security Forum (HISF).

From Friday to Sunday 300 people will gather at the Westin Nova Scotian, including prominent politicians, military officials, business leaders, journalists, academics and NGO workers from around the world. Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will host the event.

Robin Shepherd, the senior adviser for HISF, said this year’s main discussion topics will be ISIS, Russia, the NATO alliance, North Korean nuclear arms and women in international security.

“This is a sort of conference that has a set of core values that we believe in, you know, liberal democracy, and that certainly does make it different from other conferences,” he said.

Attendees participate in on-the-record panels as well as smaller, off-the-record talks, which Shepherd says allows for more frank and productive dialogue.

“You can be sick to death of conferences and summits where diplomats just give the official line,” said Shepherd, who previously worked as the Moscow bureau chief for The Times of London. “It’s really refreshing to have the opportunity to really delve deep into issues and try to shift the terms of debate.”

Shepherd will moderate sessions featuring the Secretary General of NATO, the chief executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and the executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company.

‘All about jaw-jaw’

Since 2009, the forum has seen more than 300 participants from 91 democratic countries and their international delegations come to Halifax. Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan travelled to Nova Scotia to host this year’s event.

Since it began in 2009, the conference has hosted a number of high-profile keynote speakers. Last year, U.S. Senator John McCain was tipped off about a dossier that contained potentially incriminating links between president-elect Donald Trump and the Russian government.

Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat and current vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute—he has attended HISF multiple times and will again this year. He said the forum is about conflict prevention.

“I do think it’s something Canada has done that really makes a difference,” said Robertson. “As Churchill said, ‘it’s always better to jaw-jaw than war-war, and this is all about jaw-jaw.’”

Robertson suggests the big draw is access to other participants. He said the formal plenary sessions are interesting, but “almost incidental” to smaller bilateral meetings. In groups of 15-20, participants leave the Westin on Saturday night for dinners at restaurants around Halifax, he said. Those talks are off-the-record.

‘Not some innocent confab’

Allan Bezanson, spokesperson and organizer for the local activism group No Harbour for War, opposes what Bezanson calls “militarist solutions” to international security issues. The group is planning an “anti-war rally” for Saturday afternoon.

Bezanson does agree with Robertson on one point—participants come to HISF to talk to each other, informally.

“The important thing about these conferences is it gets these people together so they can mingle in the hallways and in the hospitality suites, and all that, and work out their plans,” said Bezanson.

While both Robertson and Shepherd point to this mingling as a productive and convivial feature of the forum, Bezanson considers it suspect.

“It’s not some innocent confab; it’s very serious,” he said.


The HISF is held at the Westin Nova Scotian in downtown Halifax.   Cory Funk

Public and private sponsors

HISF was created in 2009 with funding from the Canadian government and the German Marshall Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit. The event was initially the “vision” of former Canadian defence minister and Nova Scotia MP, Peter MacKay, according to a 2015 media release.

In a phone interview, MacKay said he and HISF president Peter Van Praagh wanted to replicate similar forums from around the world.

“Among my various travels I had attended security forums in places like Munich and Brussels and Estonia and the Baltics, and these big international gatherings to me seemed like a very good forum to have discussions,” he said.

The Canadian government was a sponsor from the beginning, but MacKay wanted HISF to move away from that funding model.

“The intention was always that it would become completely independent of government funding, and more arms length,” he said.

According to their website, HISF became an independent non-profit organization in 2011. Today, it receives funding from public and private sponsors, including the Canadian Department of National Defence and Air Canada.

The forum is paid for by a public-private partnership, including the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the Department of National Defence. The defence department allotted $3.3 million for this year’s forum, while ACOA contributed $250,000.

Halifax impact

Former Canadian defence minister Peter MacKay said it’s a boon for the community of Halifax.

“People who probably wouldn’t be coming to this city otherwise, you have a weekend where the hotel is full, taxi cabs are being used, restaurants are being used,” he said in an interview Friday. 

Glenn Bowie, area director of sales and marketing at the Westin, agreed with MacKay that the security forum has an impact on the local economy.

He said last year rooms were booked at 12 different hotels for the weekend. This year, 20 private planes refuel at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, pilots and crew book hotel rooms for the weekend, tables are reserved at 21 restaurants and more than 20 vehicles are chartered for moving delegates from one place to the next.

“It’s so good for our city and a lot of (other) cities would love to have it,” said Bowie.

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